Monday Morning Insights

Photo of Todd

    Zondervan Issues an Apology for “Deadly Viper”

    Zondervan Issues an Apology for “Deadly Viper”

    I've been watching this feud from a distance over the past couple of weeks.  It looks like it's finally over.  Zondervan has apologized for a racially insensitve book and pulled it from the shelves of all bookstores.

    At dispute:  The book:  Deadly Viper: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.  The book, written by Jud Whilhite and Mike Foster, uses Chinese characters and images for its illustrations.

    It all started the first part of November when North Park Theological Seminary professor Soong-Chan Rah called for an apology because of the author's (and Zondervan's) insensitivity to Asian culture.

    Quoted at Christianity Today and on his blog, Rah said, among other things:

    This video clip is extremely offensive and portraying Asians in a cartoonish manner in order market your merchandise. Particularly offensive is the voiceover of a white person doing a faux Asian accent:

    This image presents Asian as sinister enemies:

    This quote reveals an insensitivity to the Chinese language and mocks Chinese names: “There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word”

    The use of Chinese characters and kanji in a non-sensical manner.

    Rah continued:  "Mike and Jud, you are two white males who are inappropriately co-opting another culture and using it to further the marketing of your book," he wrote. "You are not from our cultural framework, yet you feel that you have the authority to represent our culture before others."

    After Mike Foster, initially responding negatively to the criticism, many Asian American blogs picked up on the story; and the pressure began to mount on Zondervan.  On Thursday of last week, Zondervan finally did:

    This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message.

    There is no need for debate on this subject. We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.

    What do you think?  Is this a case of being politically correct, or a real act of racism?  (A personal note:  Deadly Viper was actually released two years ago in 2007.  I read it shortly after it came out.  It's a good book.  I never thought twice about racial stereotypes when I read the book.  Maybe because it wasn't about anything racial; maybe because I'm just racially insensitive.  The book had a Kung Fu theme in an attempt to attract young men.  It's a sharp, over-produced, expensive to make, little book.  My teenage son went through a small-group using the book; and enjoyed it.  It has many great themes, including integrity, self-discipline, and sexual purity.)  None of us ever thought twice about the Kung Fu-i-ness of the book and how that might misrepresent Asian culture.)

    Which begs the question:  Are some of us under-sensitive?  Are some of us over-sensitive?  What's the proper balance?

    You can read more here...

    Love to hear your input...





    if you want a Globally Recognized Avatar (the images next to your profile) get them here. Once you sign up, your picture will displayed on any website that supports gravitars.

    1. Brad Jordan on Mon, November 23, 2009

      I see both sides of the argument and I’m coming from the same perspective as you, Todd.  I picked this book up at Catalyst and thoroughly enjoyed, not once seeing as racial or degrading in nature.  It was done in the character of the campy Asian movies of the 60’s and a way (as you said) to attract young men to the topics of integrity, character and sexual purity.

      From a ministry standpoint, I greatly see the need to be culturally sensitive but I think this is a case of PC over reaching.  I guess this is why we don’t see WB cartoons any more because Pepe Lepew and Bugs are just destroying the fabric of our culture (sarcasm intended).  grin

    2. Bruce on Mon, November 23, 2009

      For Real?!

    3. rbud on Mon, November 23, 2009

      Likely, no one thought anything negative about it until Prof. Rah interjected his view. I haven’t read the book, but the entire debate seems unnecessary from this cursory review. There are many issues over which we are way too PC sensitive. Perhaps this is among them.

    4. Paul J. on Mon, November 23, 2009

      They closed their website too…

    5. Derek on Mon, November 23, 2009

      Personally, as an Asian, I’d have been livid had I heard about the book when it came out.  That it didn’t bother some of the previous posters and you, Todd, doesn’t mean that it is okay or not racially insensitive.  People within the majority culture view things from their perspective. 

      My objection over such caricatures is based on Scripture and NOT being PC—perhaps an easy accusation to make when it doesn’t bother you.  From a biblical perspective, how does playing off of a stereotype honor or respect the Body of Christ?  The content may be spot-on (I don’t doubt that it is), but the presentation sounds ethnocentric. 

      More disturbing to hear is the general notion, “Hey, it didn’t bother me so what’s the big deal?”  To which I’d say, “Gee, thanks for thinking of how I might receive it.  If it is offensive to me, it must be my problem.”  If you weren’t thinking about how others might perceive the stereotype, then maybe the problem resides within you.  Could you imagine if this was a caricature of Blacks (e.g.—stereotyping slavery, Uncle Tom, or living in the ‘hood)?  It wouldn’t have been done.  Why?!  Because it would have ticked them off.  Can you understand how it might offend them?  What makes Asians different to offend that other cultures?

    6. Jason Allison on Mon, November 23, 2009

      I led a men’s group through this study and honestly found it pretty juvenile and basic.  The “kung-fu-iness” was cheesy and way over played.  It did not even occur to me to see it as racially insensitive - for which I really apologize.  I guess the whole “ninja thing” has been so caricatured for so long that it is becoming part of our collective perception that is not ever questioned. 

      In response to the professor’s reaction, maybe it would have been better to write the authors and publishers seeking to make them aware of their cultural insensitivity rather than making a spectacle of all involved.  I don’t think Mike or Jud either one intended to offend anyone with the material.  It was a bit cheesy and junior highish but that is too often what happens when our illustrations are more potent than the content of our message. 

      I will work on being more aware of how my words might affect others and I hope others will gently teach me when I offend them out of my own ignorance.

    7. Danny on Mon, November 23, 2009

      Spent much time thinking this over and here is where I’m at.

      Does it even matter? We claim we are one body and the same, so should our ancestry and heritage even matter? How is it that people who have no qualms shaking off or mocking the cultures and traditions of the church, hang so tightly onto their worldly heritage?

      My identity isn’t wrapped up in who gave birth to me, or the culture through which I learned and grew. Mock it. Mimic it. Despise it. Reject it. I don’t care.

      My identity is in Christ. Chances are the people we are trying to reach, don’t care about who we are either, just the message we are sharing.

    8. Derek on Mon, November 23, 2009

      Jason, thank you for your gracious, encouraging post. 

      Danny, I appreciate your sentiment for being “colorblind” but I think it misses the point.  Race, ethnicity and culture are a significant contribution to our understanding of Christ.  Revelation tells us that people from every tribe, tongue and nation will be gathered around the throne of God. 

      The value and importance of this diversity is that these various differences reveal a bigger picture of who Christ is (how a person encounters Jesus is shaped by their background as determined by race, ethnicity and culture).  The illiterate hunter/gatherer from the S. Pacific will tell a different story about Jesus than a rich multilingual European.  The Body of Christ NEEDS these differences.  To gloss over these differences ignores their importance.  Our brokenness and the Glory of our healing through Christ is found in these diversities.

      I want to hear the songs of praise God (Father, Son and Spirit) will receive in all the different tongues of His People.  If someone mocks these languages, they diminish they value of these differences God Himself created.

      Think of it this way, if someone were to mock the artwork of a 3 year-old or Downs child that you have received as a gift, how would you feel about that, even if they meant well?  What is gained when someone within the Body of Christ, mocks, disrespects or stereotypes unique races, ethnicities and cultures?

    9. bn on Mon, November 23, 2009

      Cheesy! This book seems about as culturally authentic as the 1970’s “Hai Karate” men’s fragrance!

      Many times publishers seem to want to put out materials with a theme to hook people in. Can’t wait until Zondervan or a similar publishing house comes out with something like “Ghetto Gangstas” to target the Men’s Bible Study market…

    10. Kim on Mon, November 23, 2009

      I appreciate your comments, Derek, and hope everyone else does as well.  What an eye opener!  Glad I popped in on this discussion, because I’ve always considered myself “colorblind” - thinking it was a good thing, but now learning it’s not all good.  Diversity rocks!  And just because I personally don’t find something offensive doesn’t mean it’s not.

    11. lynne marian on Mon, November 23, 2009

      It’s a shame. There is some great content in that book, and I know really solid intent behind the ministry behind Deadly Viper. I think this is a cautionary tale to all of us involved in the creation of content to be responsible, careful, to check and double check facts, and other information so we don’t discredit our good words, with sloppy execution.

    12. Jesse on Mon, November 23, 2009

      Derek, I don’t understand how the use of ninjas in this book is offensive? Can you explain?

      Should I, being white, be offended by Soong-Chan using cowboys to sell his next book? (even typing that makes me intensely furious - please help me understand)

    13. Carl on Mon, November 23, 2009

      Although not a direct application, it seems like Romans 14 provides good guidelines on how to proceed. If some are truly offended (not just blog writers looking for something to stir up controversy with), then it is better not to continue to cause offense. If I were Zondervan, I would have polled others after the complaint came out to see if this guy was alone in feeling offended or if there were others who were bothered by the approach.  (They may have done this - I have no idea if they did.)

    14. Peter Hamm on Mon, November 23, 2009

      Are some of us under-sensitive? 


      Are some of us over-sensitive?


        What’s the proper balance?

      I have no idea…

    15. WWJD on Mon, November 23, 2009

      If Non-Asians think its racist and are offended, it might be.

      If only Asians think its racist and offensive, it might not be.

      It might be racist, but not necessarily offensive. 

      Personally, I am not offended as I think it was meant to be a parody on Ninja culture, not necessarily Asian culture.  I guess I can see how someone might be offended but I think to dwell on it is a waste of time and energy that you could be directing towards the Kingdom.  And yes, I am Asian.

    16. Page 1 of 3 pages  1 2 3 >

      Post a Comment

    17. (will not be published)

      Remember my personal information

      Notify me of follow-up comments?